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Shaping Resilient Initiatives With Purpose-to-Practice

Barry Overeem
Dec 21, 2018 · 6 min read

Liberating Structures are a collection of interaction patterns that allow you to unleash and involve everyone in a group — from extroverted to introverted and from leaders to followers. In this series of posts, we show how Liberating Structures can be used with Scrum.

The Liberating Structure ‘Purpose-to-Practice’ (P2P) is a great start of every initiative. For example a team kickoff, a new project, or the start of a new user group. Each of these initiatives will increase their chance of success by having a shared purpose. The first step of P2P is to define this purpose together. From there, P2P covers other essential elements— principles, participants, structure, and practices — are designed to help achieve that purpose. Because everyone is involved in defining these essential elements, you ensure a shared understanding and encourage self-organization.

In this blog post, we’ll share how we used P2P during a Scrum engagement and for starting the Liberating Structures User Group in The Netherlands. We’ll describe the steps we’ve used to create the P2P, possible combinations with other structures, and some practical tips.

Drawing Together was created by Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz, inspired by Dee Hock.

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The 5 Elements of P2P

The five essential elements that are part of P2P are:

  • Purpose: why is the work important to us and the larger community?
  • Principles: what rules must we follow in pursuit of our purpose?
  • Participants: who must be included to achieve our purpose?
  • Structure: how will we distribute control instead of relying on top-down control?
  • Practices: what are we going to do? What will we offer our stakeholders? How will we offer it?

Example: The Liberating Structures User Group

The Dutch Liberating Structures User Group was founded in March 2018. After having hosted a couple of meetups, we noticed a desire to define our shared purpose and clarify the supporting elements. During a 2-hour meetup, we created the first version of the P2P. From that moment on, we continuously shared the five elements during new meetups and jointly refined it. Interestingly enough, refinement mostly meant removing parts by which only the essential remains. Less is more.

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Creating the P2P for the Liberating Structures User Group

The result of the P2P for the Liberating Structures user group is captured in the visualization below. To make the process of creating a P2P more tangible, we’ll describe the structures we’ve used within this exercise.

Purpose
Nine Whys is a Liberating Structure that helps you discover the purpose of your work together as a group. This structure makes the most sense to use within this part of P2P. By offering the statement “our user group exists in order to…” we jointly crafted our purpose statement.

Principles
Min Specs helps groups determine what are essential rules that must be followed in order to achieve their purpose. We used this structure to define the principles of the user group. First, we created the ‘max specs’, a list with as many must-do and must-not-do principles. Next, we asked everyone to aggressively test all the items on their lists against the challenge. Can the purpose still be achieved without this item? If so, remove the item. The result of being aggressively minimalistic was a list with 3 principles.

Participants, structure, and practices
For defining the participants, structure, and practices we used Shift and Share. This structure invites participants to share ideas and solutions across groups of any size. We used it as an interactive exercise to determine whom to include, what structure to choose, and what practices to follow in order to achieve the purpose of our user group.

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Example: Scrum Master Journey at the ANWB

The Scrum Master journey at ANWB is a program that consists of monthly workshops and Retrospectives focused on making Scrum Masters more effective in their role. By focusing on the principles and values of Scrum, we encourage participants to practice all the stances of a Scrum Master. This means doing exercises related to facilitation, coaching, teaching, and mentoring. At the start of this journey, we crafted our purpose and defined the supporting elements. Having a shared purpose helps us stay on track and focused on achieving our goals.

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Creating the P2P for the Scrum Master journey at the ANWB

In the example of the Liberating Structures user group, I’ve shared how we defined the P2P. In this example, I’ll share the outcome of the P2P exercise at the ANWB. This isn’t the entire outcome, it’s only meant to give you an impression of what is possible with the 5 elements of P2P.

Purpose

“We exist in order to support our own growth and the growth of others, making way for a culture of continuous learning and improvement within the ANWB.”

Principles

  • We point out unconstructive behavior when it happens
  • We put what we learn into practice
  • We share experiences in order to inspire and support each other

Participants

  • Other Scrum Masters of the ANWB
  • (Team) Management
  • Team members (Product Owners and Developers)
  • The Liberators (Barry & Christiaan)

Structure

  • Communication via Whatsapp
  • 2x week face-to-face meetup
  • 1x per month a 1-day workshop for a specific theme

Practices

  • Share experiences with Scrum Masters from different companies
  • Organize a public meetup or workshop
  • Share the outcome of the workshop by writing blog posts

In this organization, we briefly discuss the P2P at the start of our monthly workshops. This helps us remember the purpose and optionally refine the supporting elements.

Tips and Ideas

However tempting, preferably don’t use 1–2–4-ALL for defining all five elements of P2P. You can go much deeper by using various other Liberating Structures for the steps. Try to be creative by using a different structure for every part. Some ideas are…

  • Use TRIZ before Nine Whys to define the purpose. An invitation like “What can we do to ensure this become the worst user group ever?” will definitely spark an interesting conversation!
  • Try Min Specs to determine the essential participants for your initiative. First, create a list of all possible participants. Next, invite everyone to test all participants against their purpose. Can you still be successful without them? If so, remove them from your list of participants.
  • Determine the principles with Appreciative Interviews. This structure helps groups identify the conditions that are essential to their success by revealing ‘hidden’ success stories. Afterward ask: “given these success stories, what principles stand out?”
  • Use Impromptu Networking to rapidly share ideas about the structural part of P2P. For the invitation, you can use the question that’s already part of P2P: “How will we distribute control instead of relying on top-down control?”. After everyone has shared their experiences, stories, and ideas you can gather the patterns and use this as input for the P2P element ‘Structure’.
  • Try 25/10 Crowd Sourcing to generate and sift the group’s most powerful and actionable ideas for the P2P element ‘Practices’. The very active nature of this exercise helps you define bold ideas in a short amount of time.

Some other practical tips are…

  • Continuously re-iterate the P2P elements by focusing on simplification and clarification;
  • Share the P2P with the participants, take their feedback into account as well;
  • Turn the P2P into a nice visualization, encourage graphic recording;

Closing

In this post, we’ve explained the Liberating Structure ‘Purpose-to-Practice’. This Liberating Structure is going to help you decide what principles you must follow, whom to include, what structure to choose, and what practices to do in order to make your purpose come to life. By sharing some examples of how we’ve used it, we hope to encourage you to give it a try as well. We’re always happy to hear your experiences or hear your suggestions.

Interested in learning many different Liberating Structures in an intense 2-day workshop? Check out our agenda for upcoming Immersion Workshops. If you’re aiming to join, book early — they are exceptionally popular. And join the Dutch User Group to learn more about Liberating Structures.

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